LOGAN — Candidates for Utah’s 1st Congressional District faced off Wednesday night at Utah State University in a debate that was broadcast locally on KVNU 610 AM/102.1 FM and throughout the state. Democrat Lee Castillo and United Utah Party candidate Eric Eliason are challenging incumbent Republican Rep. Rob Bishop.
Wednesday’s debate, sponsored by the Utah Debate Commission, included shots from Eliason and Castillo at Bishop, calling him a career politician and being out of touch with Utah voters.
Eliason told the audience that he decided to run because he was frustrated.
“I am frustrated with politicians in Washington who refuse to do the work and refuse to tackle the tough issues,” Eliason exclaimed. “They are kicking the can down the road and pointing fingers at one another. Why are they doing this?
“We know why they are doing this: re-election. Mr. Bishop and his colleagues are more worried about re-election than getting the job done of handling this country’s difficult problems.”
Eliason also criticized Bishop for pushing to diminish the size of Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument without protecting those areas from mining extraction.
“Follow the money,” Eliason said. “Ninety percent of Mr. Bishop’s campaign finances come from out of the state of Utah. I think it’s around 80 percent right now and No. 1 on the list, or No. 2 depending on the year, is oil and gas. His committee has received $6 million from the oil and gas industry. I have a hard time seeing how our congressman can be objective when that is the case.”
Castillo thanked Bishop for his years of service, but then stressed it was time for him to retire.
“You have the opportunity to have someone who has your back,” he said to voters.
Bishop, the 16-year incumbent, touted his experience in government and Congress and his position as the only conservative in the race — values he says have served him well in Washington and with the majority of Utah voters.
Bishop was first elected to Congress in 2003 and was asked how the U.S. government could stop spending so much money.
“The idea that the federal government has to fund everything and has to run everything and has to regulate everything,” Bishop said, “is the extensive cost that we are actually having.
“If, indeed, we could come up with that system so that state and local governments who have greater creativity and flexibility could actually fund the programs that they can run better, and leave to the federal government only the things designed in the Constitution to be funded, we could actually help solve this problem.”
As for campaign donations? Bishop said they don’t play into his decisions.
“Nobody really knows and sees my heart,” he said. “I find it somewhat unfair and somewhat offensive when people say I do things because of money. I do not sell my votes.”